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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament
Thessalonians Epistles to the
1. The Thessalonian Church
(1) The narrative of Acts 17.-Thessalonica, a free Greek city with the right to summon its own assembly, was a flourishing seaport and the capital of one of the four divisions of Macedonia. Thither, in the course of his second missionary journey, came Paul, together with Silas and Timothy, to carry on the work cut short in Philippi by the civil power. Beginning as usual with the Jews, the Apostle preached in the synagogue on three successive Sabbaths. The result of his preaching was the conversion of a few of the Jews, of a great multitude of Greek proselytes, and of a considerable number of the principal women. Subsequently the Jews, aided by the rabble* [Note: Lake (The Earlier Epistles of St. Paul, p. 69 n.) suggests that ἀγοραίων (Acts 17:5) means not ‘loafers’ but ‘agitators’ (cf. Plutarch, aemil. Paul. 38), and that the δῆμος to which the apostles were to have been brought was not a special juridical body, but merely the agitation meeting called into existence by the ἀγόραιοι.] of the city, created an uproar, stormed the house where the apostles lodged, and dragged Jason their host before the municipal assembly. There they accused him of harbouring men whose presence was a menace to the public peace, adherents of a rival Emperor, one Jesus. To such a charge no Imperial officer could safely turn a deaf ear, least of all in a city possessing peculiar privileges. Yet the action of the politarchs was lenient. They bound over Jason and ‘the rest’ to keep the peace of the city and let them go, probably holding them responsible for the continued absence of Paul and Silas from Thessalonica (Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveller and the Roman Citizen, p. 231). Meanwhile the apostles and Timothy had been sent by night to Berœa, where they continued their missionary labours. But the hostility of the Thessalonian Jews still pursued them, and their work had to be abandoned. Paul departed to the sea,* [Note: Zahn, following in v. 14 the reading of the MSS HLP ὡς ἐπὶ τὴν θάλασσαν, suggests that Paul travelled overland to Athens (Introd. to the NT, Eng. tr., 3 vols., Edinburgh, 1909, vol. i. p. 214).] probably to Dium, where he embarked for Athens. Silas and Timothy remained at Berœa with instructions to rejoin him as soon as possible (ὡς τάχιστα, Acts 17:15).
(2) Supplementary details supplied by the Epistles.-The reliability of Acts 17 is attested by the accuracy of its focal information. The existence of the Thessalonian δῆμος (Acts 17:5), the title πολιτάρχης (Acts 17:6-8), the greater freedom of women in Macedonian life as compared with that of Athens (Acts 17:4), are all facts substantiated by contemporary evidence (cf. Lightfoot, Biblical Essays, p. 237 ff.; Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveller, p. 227, AJTh [Note: JTh American Journal of Theology.] ii.  598-632). Yet the Acts narrative is an outline sketch rather than a finished picture (Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveller, p. 233; cf. Harnack, The Acts of the Apostles, London, 1909, p. 206). Its appearance is considerably altered by the addition of details gleaned from 1 Thessalonians.
(a) Though the writer of the Acts admits that most of the Thessalonian Christians were Gentiles, he speaks only of Gentile proselytes to Judaism (τῶν τε σεβομένων Ἑλλήνων, Acts 17:4). 1 Thess. implies that the Thessalonian Church was composed largely of converts from heathenism (1 Thessalonians 1:9; 1 Thessalonians 2:14; 1 Thessalonians 4:1-5). This discrepancy certainly disappears if we regard as the true text of Acts 17:4 Ramsay’s emendation πολλοὶ τῶν σεβομένων, καὶ Ἑλλήνων πλῆθος πολὺ κτλ. (St. Paul the Traveller, p. 226 n. [Note: . note.] ). But probably the insertion of καὶ by the Bezan and ‘inferior’ Manuscripts on which it is based represents only a scribe’s attempt to avoid the unusual phrase τῶν σεβομένων Ἑλλήνων (Askwith, An Introduction to the Thessalonian Epistles, p. 12 ff.).
(b) Acts 17 seems to suggest that Paul left Thessalonica soon after his three weeks of synagogue teaching. From 1 Thess. we gather that the Apostle settled down to his ordinary trade (1 Thessalonians 2:9; cf. 2 Thessalonians 3:8), dealt personally with individual converts (1 Thessalonians 2:7-11), and built up a simple form of church organization (1 Thessalonians 5:12). Twice at Thessalonica he received donations from Philippi (Philippians 4:15-16). These things would scarcely be crowded into three weeks. Clearly the Apostle spent a much longer time at Thessalonica. The chronological scheme of Acts would allow for a stay of six months (Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveller, p. 228).
(c) From Acts 18:5 it would naturally be inferred that Silas and Timothy first rejoined Paul at Corinth. 1 Thess. makes it clear that before this they had been with him in Athens (1 Thessalonians 3:1). These differences between Acts and 1 Thess., while they betray no fundamental contradiction, yet serve to show the complete independence of the two narratives. ‘It is evident that that epistle was not in the hands of the author of Acts … nor was Acts in the hands of the author of 1 Thess.’ (Encyclopaedia Biblica iv. 5040 f.).
2. Occasion and date of the Epistles.-In Athens Paul was joined by Silas and Timothy, who caused him grave anxiety by their tidings of fresh persecutions suffered by the Thessalonian Church (1 Thessalonians 3:1-5). More than once Paul planned a return to Thessalonica, but the way was barred. What particular obstacle is meant by the Oriental phrase ἐνέκοψεν ἡμᾶς ὁ Σατανᾶς (1 Thessalonians 2:18) is uncertain. Perhaps it was the unrescinded prohibition of the Thessalonian politarchs (Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveller, p. 231). Whatever its nature, it did not affect Timothy, and accordingly Paul and Silas (cf. ἐπέμψαμεν, 1 Thessalonians 3:1) sent him in their stead to learn the state of the Church’s affairs, and to strengthen the persecuted Christians. Left alone in Athens, after a sojourn in that city of not more than four or five weeks Paul went on to Corinth, where Silas and Timothy found him on their return from Macedonia* [Note: Soon after Timothy’s departure from Athens, Silas seems to have been sent on a similar errand to another Macedonian Church (Acts 18:5), perhaps to Philippi (Philippians 4:15).] (Acts 18:5). Timothy’s report, supplemented perhaps by a letter from the Thessalonians, was on the whole extremely satisfactory (see Expositor , 5th ser. viii.  161 ff, for an attempt to reconstruct the supposed letter). The constancy of the Thessalonians under persecution not only had proved them worthy of their ‘election,’ but had also caused their example to be held up for imitation to all believers throughout Macedonia and Achaia (1 Thessalonians 1:2-10; 1 Thessalonians 3:5-8) yet they were beset by dangers. Adversaries of the apostles had misrepresented their motives in preaching at Thessalonica, possibly making capital out of their secret departure from the city (1 Thessalonians 2:3 ff., where the words πλάνη, ἀκαθαρσία, δόλος, κολακεία, πλεονεξία, ζητοῦντες δόξαν seem to echo actual charges brought against the writers). If the Thessalonian Christians were once brought to distrust their teachers, it seemed probable that persecution would soon drive them back to heathenism.
Furthermore, difficulties existed within the Christian community. Heathen social life and the impurity tolerated by public opinion still had attractions for some (1 Thessalonians 4:1-6); some were inclined to abandon useful employment for a life of idleness (1 Thessalonians 4:11), while others snowed a spirit of disorder and contempt for those in authority (1 Thessalonians 5:12-14). Misunderstandings had arisen as to the use of peculiar spiritual gifts (1 Thessalonians 5:19-20). Some Christians who had lost friends by death were anxious to know what part these should have in the Parousia.
Harnack (‘Das Problem des zweiten Thessalonicherbriefs,’ in SBAW [Note: BAW Sitzungsberichte der Berliner Akademie der Wissenschaften.] , 1910) thinks that Timothy also reported a serious cleavage between Jewish and Gentile converts; hence the insistence on ‘all the brethren,’ e.g. 1 Thessalonians 3:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:15; 1 Thessalonians 5:26.
To remove these difficulties, the two apostles and Timothy wrote the joint Epistle, 1 Thessalonians. It was the only possible substitute for a personal visit, and every paragraph bears witness to the warmth of personal affection existing between teachers and pupils. Who bore this letter to its destination, and whether he returned immediately to Paul, we do not know. By some means, however, the Apostle learned that fresh trouble had arisen at Thessalonica. Persecution still continued and was still bravely endured (2 Thessalonians 1:4); but a new source of anxiety had arisen from a spreading belief in the imminence of the Parousia. 1 Thess. had spoken not of the time, but only of the suddenness of the Lord’s coming, yet one phrase at least (ἡμεῖς οἱ ζῶντες κτλ.,1 Thessalonians 4:15) seemed to give colour to the idea that it was to be expected within the lifetime of the existing generation. This notion was fostered by men who claimed the authority not only of the apostolic letter, but also of their own personal gift of prophecy 1 Thessalonians 2:2). Wild excitement followed, and men began entirely to neglect the duties of daily life (1 Thessalonians 3:11).
To end this disorder, the three teachers wrote a second letter. Its main point lies in the section 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12, which supplements the eschatological teaching of 1 Thess., by dwelling on the number of things which must happen before the victorious coming of the Lord, and so removing all ground for the belief that it is near at hand.
This account of the order of writing of the two Epistles is generally accepted by those who admit their genuineness. Harnack, however, suggests that they were written at or about the same time, 1 Thess. to the Gentile, 2 Thess. to the Jewish section of the community† [Note: This theory of the destination of 2 Thess. is based chiefly on the essentially Jewish complexion of the Epistle, especially 2:1-12, and on the reading εἴλατο ὑμᾶς ὁ θεὸς ἀπαρχὴν εἰς σωτηρίαν (2:13). Its author is inspired by a desire to accept the authenticity of 2 Thess., although he thinks that its difference in tone from 1 Thess. makes it incredible that the two Epistles were written to the same people about the same time.] (‘Das Problem des zweiten Thessalonicherbriefs,’ in SBAW [Note: BAW Sitzungsberichte der Berliner Akademie der Wissenschaften.] , 1910).
The actual date assigned to the Epistles depends upon the particular system of Pauline chronology adopted. Both, if genuine, were written during Paul’s stay at Corinth at the end of his second missionary journey (Acts 18:11; see Encyclopaedia Biblica iv. 5037), and must in any case have been composed between a.d. 47 and 53 (see Moffatt, Historical NT2, pp. 121-137). The interval between them would be at most a few weeks.
3. Contents of the Epistles
(i.) 1 Thessalonians.-After the opening salutation (1 Thessalonians 1:1), which represents a combination of the conventional Greek and Hebrew greetings of the period (χάρις καὶ εἰρήνη), the Epistle falls into two sections.
(a) Narrative and personal (1 Thessalonians 1:2 to 1 Thessalonians 3:13).-(1) Thanksgiving for the Thessalonians’ steadfastness under trial and progress in the faith, which have made them a pattern for all Christians throughout Macedonia and Achaia. Their new strength springs from the fact that they have become servants of a God who is living and real (1 Thessalonians 1:2-10).
(2) Surely they can have no doubts about the apostles’ motives, when they recall their freedom from all self-seeking, their solicitude for individuals, the persecution they had suffered, the labour and privation necessitated by their voluntary independence. Pupils themselves bear witness that their teachers’ attitude was that of a father exhorting his children to walk worthily of God (1 Thessalonians 2:1-12).
(3) The children have responded nobly. The message of power they received has inspired them bravely to endure persecution at the hands of their countrymen, even as the Jewish Christians had already done in Judaea (1 Thessalonians 2:13-16).
(4) Driven from Thessalonica, the apostles have longed to return. More than once Paul planned to do so, but in vain. Unable to bear suspense, he and Silas sent Timothy from Athens to learn how they fared.* [Note: κἀγὼ ἔπεμψα (1 Thessalonians 3:5) may perhaps imply that St. Paul sent ft second messenger on his own account.] The good news he brought back has put new life into the apostles. In spite of persecution, the Thessalonians have remained steadfast. The apostles therefore pour out their hearts in thanksgiving to God, and in new longing to revisit and strengthen their spiritual children (1 Thessalonians 2:17 to 1 Thessalonians 3:10). May God soon grant them their desire, and lead their converts still further in the way of holiness (1 Thessalonians 3:11-13).
(b) Hortatory and doctrinal.-(1) So far they have done well. They must not relax their efforts. The Christian watchword is progress. Christian progress will involve complete severance from the impurity of pagan life. They who wilfully sin against the body, the dwelling-place of the Spirit, lay themselves open to the vengeance of God (1 Thessalonians 4:1-8).
(2) Brotherly love, already a manifest token of Divine guidance in them, must be maintained. One mark of its presence will be such quiet performance of daily duties as will be an example to heathen neighbours (1 Thessalonians 4:9-12).
(3) Let no one be anxious about departed friends. Christians are one with Christ. Those who sleep will awake and have their place along with the living at His coming (1 Thessalonians 4:12-18). When He will come no man can tell. Christians must so live as to be prepared for His coming at any time (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11).
(4) Finally, they must remember their duty of obedience to those in authority and of mutual help and forbearance to each other. Joy, prayer, thanksgiving are the basis of the Christian life. Peculiar spiritual gifts are to be neither discouraged nor over-estimated: that which is good must be held fast; all that bears the image of evil must be rejected (1 Thessalonians 5:12-22).
The Epistle ends with a prayer for their complete sanctification, a request for their intercessions, a command to circulate the Epistle itself, and a final benediction (1 Thessalonians 5:23-28).
(ii.) 2 Thessalonians.-(1) The salutation (2 Thessalonians 1:1-2) leads up to a thanksgiving for the readers’ spiritual progress, especially for their endurance under persecution. Such constancy is a proof of what awaits them at the Final Judgment (2 Thessalonians 1:2-4). The Final Judgment is then described in a rhythmical passage based on OT phrases (2 Thessalonians 1:5-10), perhaps an adaptation of a primitive Christian hymn (Bornemann, Die Thessalonicherbriefe, pp. 329, 336). May they be made worthy to set forth the glory of the name of the Lord Jesus in that day (2 Thessalonians 1:10-12).
(2) But let them not be misled. That day is not yet, whatever mistaken teachers may say, even though they claim the support of the Apostle’s letter (2 Thessalonians 2:1-3). Do they not remember the Apostle’s teaching? A mystery of lawlessness is at work in the world, but as yet it is kept in check. First must come the removal of the restraining power, the great apostasy, the climax of lawlessness in the person of the man of lawlessness and the time of his temporary success. Then, and not before then, will Christ come in victory to destroy the ‘man of lawlessness’ and his followers (2 Thessalonians 2:1-12). Thanks be to God who has delivered the readers from such a fate: let them hold fast those things which they have received, and may God strengthen and keep them steadfast (2 Thessalonians 2:13-17).
(3) Let them pray for their teachers, who have full confidence in their sincerity. God grant them love and patience (2 Thessalonians 3:1-5).
(4) Idle and unruly brethren are to be shunned. Such conduct is opposed both to the teaching and to the example of the apostles. The Christian must be self-supporting or be cut off from the community (2 Thessalonians 3:6-15). May God’s own peace rest on them all (2 Thessalonians 3:16). The Epistle closes with a salutation in Paul’s own handwriting.
4. Teaching of the Epistles
(i.) Doctrine of God.-The dominant thought is that God is a living personal reality, as opposed to the abstractions of heathen philosophy or the mere fancies of heathen religion (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10.). God gave the apostles their message (1 Thessalonians 2:4; 1 Thessalonians 2:13), and His inward power moved their hearers to accept it (1 Thessalonians 2:13, 2 Thessalonians 2:13), so that their life is now lived in His very presence (ἔμπροσθεν τοῦ θεοῦ, 1 Thessalonians 1:3). From Him alone come grace and peace (1 Thessalonians 3:12, 1 Thessalonians 5:23, 2 Thessalonians 2:16; 2 Thessalonians 3:16). He is our Judge (1 Thessalonians 2:4) but He is also our Father (1 Thessalonians 1:3, 1 Thessalonians 3:11; 1 Thessalonians 3:13, 2 Thessalonians 1:1-2; 2 Thessalonians 2:16).
(a) Person of Christ.-It is not too much to say that the essential Divinity of Christ and His essential equality with the Father are everywhere taken for granted. Christ is the Son (1 Thessalonians 1:10): He is linked with the Father as the source of the Church’s life (1 Thessalonians 1:1, 2 Thessalonians 1:1; cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:14), as the object of prayer (1 Thessalonians 3:11, 2 Thessalonians 2:16), as the giver of supreme blessings (2 Thessalonians 1:2; 2 Thessalonians 3:18, 1 Thessalonians 5:28). To one trained in Jewish monotheism, this can have meant nothing less than that Christ Himself is God (see Sanday in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) iii. 648). Therefore He is naturally called ὁ κύριος, a title commonly applied to God among the Hellenistic Jews. At the same time His humanity is indicated by the use of the simple human name ‘Jesus’ (1 Thessalonians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 4:14), and His Messiahship by the frequent repetition of the title Χριστός.
(b) Work of Christ.-On earth Christ died and rose again (1 Thessalonians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 4:14; 1 Thessalonians 5:10). His death was the means of man’s salvation (1 Thessalonians 5:9-10); His resurrection is the pledge of the resurrection of His followers (1 Thessalonians 4:14), who shall hereafter share His glorified life (1 Thessalonians 4:17, 1 Thessalonians 5:10). As Messiah He will finally vanquish the forces of evil (2 Thessalonians 2:8-10), and sit on the judgment-seat (2 Thessalonians 1:7-10).
(iii.) The Holy Spirit.-As the Son is linked with the Father, so also the Holy Spirit is associated with the Divine activity. The Holy Spirit inspired both the conviction with which the apostles preached and the joy with which their message was received (1 Thessalonians 1:5-6). From the Holy Spirit came those charismatic gifts which abuse seemed likely to bring into contempt (1 Thessalonians 5:19). Bodily impurity is a sin against the Holy Spirit of God planted within (1 Thessalonians 4:8). It cannot be claimed, however, that the Holy Spirit is spoken of as distinctly personal.
(iv.) Eschatology.-The eschatological teaching of these Epistles centres round the doctrine of the victorious coming of the Lord Jesus as the climax of human history. Yet in neither Epistle do the writers profess to give a complete description of that final event. They select only those points which bear directly on the practical question before them at the moment. The teaching of the First Epistle is framed to answer the question ‘What part will dead Christians take in the Parousia?’ That of the Second Epistle is shaped by the desire to quiet hysterical unrest at Thessalonica with an assurance that the Parousia is not imminent. If the statements of the two Epistles have few points of contact, it is because they are dealing with entirely different aspects of their subject.
(1) 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-10
(a) The Parousia and the resurrection of the dead (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).-No anxiety need be felt about the faithful departed. When Jesus comes again, God, who raised Him from the dead, will also raise up those who are united to Him.* [Note: This seems to be the sense of the difficult verse 1 Thessalonians 4:14 if we connect the clause διὰ τοῦ Ἰησοῦ with ἄξει rather than with κοιμηθέντας.] Nor will they be at any disadvantage as compared with the living. ‘For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a commanding word (κελεύσματι), with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God.’ The dead in Christ will first rise; then they who are (still) alive will be snatched up along with them into the air in clouds to meet the Lord: thus shall they be ever with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:15-18). In this passage the writers claim to be speaking ἐν λόγῳ Κυρίου (1 Thessalonians 4:15). Whether they are referring to actual sayings recorded in the Gospels (e.g. Matthew 24:30 ff., John 6:39) or to some personal revelation to Paul is uncertain (cf. Milligan, Thessalonians, ad loc.). But there can be no doubt as to the source of many of the details of their picture. They have freely borrowed the bold imagery of Jewish Apocalyptic. This should be a sufficient warning against a too literal interpretation of their statements.
κέλευσμα, φωνὴ ἀρχαγγέλου, σάλπιγξ θεοῦ, whether they be synonymous or distinct ideas, are the usual prelude to a theophany in Jewish imagery (Exodus 19:16, Zechariah 9:14), and are especially connected with the end of the last world age and the Resurrection (Daniel 12:1; Daniel 12:4 Ezr 6:23; cf. Targum on Zechariah 14:4, ‘at that time will Jehovah take in His hand a great trumpet and with it blow ten blasts to raise the dead’). The advantage of those who survive (‘qui derelicti sunt’; cf. οἱ περιλειπόμενοι) at the end over the dead is discussed in 4 Ezr 13:24, though the conclusion is different from that of 1 Thessalonians. The mention of clouds in connexion with the Lord’s coming seems to go back to Daniel 7:13 (cf. Matthew 24:30; Matthew 26:64). The snatching up of the living in clouds as in a chariot (cf. Psalms 104:3) has no known parallel in earlier or contemporary writers, but the idea is quite in keepings with Jewish apocalyptic notions (see Thackeray, The Relation of St. Paul to Contemporary Jewish Thought, ch. v.).
These examples are sufficient to show how large a use is made in 1 Thess. of traditional Jewish ideas. But these ideas have become the setting of new Christian truths-the knowledge of Christ’s resurrection as a fact, and the assurance that His resurrection is the pledge of the resurrection of His servants (Psa 4:14, Psalms 5:10). It is in these truths that we find the real centre of the writers’ interest. For them, as for us, the setting is relatively unimportant. The permanent lesson of their teaching is that ‘neither death nor any cosmic crisis in the future will make any essential difference to the close relation between the Christian and his Lord’ (Moffatt, Expositor’s Greek Testament , ‘Thessalonians,’ p. 38).
(b) The time of the Parousia.-The expression ἡμεῖς οἱ ζῶντες οἱ περιλειπόμενοι (Psa 4:15, 17) is generally understood to imply that Paul expected the Parousia to be within his own lifetime. Perhaps this is reading too much into his words. The Thessalonians had asked a question concerning the relative advantages of ‘those who are dead’ and of ‘us who are still alive,’ in the event of a speedy return of Christ. It may be that the Apostle’s answer merely repeats the terms of the question. Or the clause ἡμεῖς οἱ ζῶντες οἱ περιλειπόμενοι may well be paraphrased, ‘When I say “we,” I mean those who are living, those who survive to that day’ (Lightfoot, Notes on Epistles of St. Paul, p. 66). At any rate, the writers definitely refuse to predict ‘times and seasons’ (Psalms 5:1-2). The Christian’s duty is not to seek to know the future, but so to live as to be prepared for the Lord’s coming at any time (Psalms 5:4 ff.).
(2) 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12
The signs of the end.-The eschatological teaching of the Second Epistle is supplementary to that of the First. It deals with the troublous times which will immediately precede the Second Advent. The coming of Christ is certain, but the end is not yet. First must come the apostasy, and the culmination of evil in the person of the ‘man of lawlessness,’ who will wage war on every object of human veneration, and take his seat in the Temple, claiming Divine honours as his right. Deceived by the signs and wonders he displays, those who have rejected the true Christ will hasten to follow this blasphemous imitator. Their infatuation is the Divine punishment of their previous wilful blindness.
The ‘mystery of lawlessness,’ of which these things will be the climax, is already at work in the world. But at present it is prevented by some influence (τὸ κατέχον, 2 Thessalonians 2:6) or person (ὁ κατέχων, 2 Thessalonians 2:7) from attaining its full development. Only when the restraining power has been removed will the ‘man of lawlessness’ be revealed. For a time he will succeed, but his reign will be ended by the coming of the Lord Jesus to destroy him and to set up the kingdom of the saints (2 Thessalonians 2:1-12). This teaching claims to be merely an echo of instruction already given to the Thessalonians by word of mouth (2 Thessalonians 2:5). This will help to explain why to us it seems fragmentary and obscure. The readers for whom it was intended had clues to its meaning which we no longer possess. One thing, however, is certain. The main features of this ‘Pauline Apocalypse’ are taken unmodified from purely Jewish sources.
Later Jewish eschatology always spoke of the time immediately preceding the coming of the Messiah as one of great upheavals among the nations, and of unprecedented out breaks of evil (see 4 Ezra 5:1-12; Ezra 6:19-22, Apoc. Bar. lxx., Jub. xxiii., Ass. Mos. x.; cf. Matthew 24). Whether or not this idea has its roots in a primitive Babylonian Creation-myth (so Bousset, The Antichrist Legend, London, 1896; and H. Gunkel, Schöpfung und Chaos in Urzeit und Endzeit, Göttingen, 1895) is immaterial. It is sufficient to trace its development in Jewish literature. The very earliest ‘Messianic’* [Note: It is convenient to speak of these passages as ‘Messianic,’ although some of them contain no reference to a personal Messiah. The fact that in some cases the description of the Messianic age is of much later date than the account of the conflict is unimportant. It is sufficient that they were placed side by side when the prophetic books took their final form.] prophecies of the OT represent the Golden Age as preceded by a time of conflict-the conflict which will destroy the particular oppressor of Israel at the time, and wipe out the ungodly in Israel itself (e.g. Amos 9, Isaiah 10:28-34; Isaiah 11:1-9; 11:31-32; cf. Haggai 2:6-9). The power to be overcome is in each case an actually existing Empire-Assyria, Babylon, or Persia-whose downfall will immediately usher in the glorious reign of peace. In the later prophetic books a difference appears. The Messianic age is thrown forward into a remote future, and is introduced by a struggle on a much vaster scale. Not one but all the heathen nations gather in a combined attack upon Jerusalem and are destroyed (Ezekiel 38, 39, Joel 3:9-21; cf. Zechariah 14:1-7; Zechariah 14:12). Obviously such descriptions are symbolical. They mark the transition-stage between prophecy properly so called and apocalypse.
In the apocalyptic literature of a later period, the general notion of a final conflict between the powers of the world and the kingdom of the saints reappears in varying forms. In times of unusual oppression it seemed to be near at hand, and existing heathen rulers seemed to represent the very incarnation of the heaven-defying world-spirit. The book of Daniel takes this view of Antiochus Epiphanes (Daniel 11:36 ff.), and at a later time the Psalms of Solomon seem to regard Pompey in a similar, way (Pss.-Solomon 2:1, 2:20, 17:3).
In later pictures of the last struggle a shadowy figure sometimes appears, half-human, half-demonic, who is to lead the world-forces in the last times (Apoc. Bar. xl.; cf. 4 Ezra 5:1 ff., Sib. Orac. iii. 60ff.). His reign will be a time of general impiety (4 Ezra 5:1; Ezra 5:10-12); he will perform miracles (see 4 Ezra 5:4; Ezra 5:7, Sib. Orac. iii. 65ff., Asc. Isa. iv. 5) and deceive even the faithful (Sib. Orac. iii. 69), till finally he is slain by Messiah (Apoc. Bar. xl.). This is the person familiar to later speculation under the name ‘Antichrist,’ a name which first appears in 1 John 2:18-20. An allusion to this idea is possibly to be found in the personal character given to the ‘abomination of desolation’ by the use of the masculine participle ἐστηκότα in Mark 13:14. Bousset, less probably, sees a similar reference in the words of John 5:43, ‘If another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive’ (The Antichrist Legend, p. 134).
The picture of the ‘man of lawlessness’ is indubitably a phase of the Antichrist tradition. Like all Apocalyptists, the writer felt himself free to introduce new details, i.e. the crowning impiety of sitting as God in the Temple, and the idea of a restraining power, which was necessary to explain why the end was delayed. But the figure presented is purely conventional, and is not directly connected with any historical person or circumstances. Its main features are borrowed from Daniel’s account of Antiochus Epiphanes (Daniel 11:36 ff.), with a possible reminiscence of Ezekiel’s description of the prince of Tyre (Ezekiel 28:2). The idea, common to most apocalyptic works, of a widespread apostasy in the last times seems to have sprung from the memory of the actual apostasy of many Jews in the time of Antiochus (1 Maccabees 1:11; 1 Maccabees 2:15; 1 Maccabees 2:23; cf. Matthew 24:10-13). For the miracles wrought by the ‘man of lawlessness,’ his deluding of the Jews, and his destruction by Messiah, Jewish parallels have already been quoted (cf. also Mark 13:22). It is not necessary to suppose that the writer of 2 Thessalonians 2 intended to make any close application of the details of the old tradition to the circumstances of his own age. Many interpretations of the chapter have been based on that supposition, but they are at best precarious and quite unnecessary (see Milligan, Thessalonians, p. 166 ff.; Findlay, Thessalonians, p. 223 ff.; Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) iv. 748). The one point which may be granted is that by the force which restrains the final outbreak of lawlessness is meant the Roman Empire.* [Note: τὸ κατέχον will then be the power of the Empire: ὁ κατέχων the Emperor as the representative of that power, or perhaps the angel which presides over the fate of the Empire (cf. Daniel 10:13).] The ‘mystery of lawlessness’ is any power, whether Jewish or heathen, which actively opposes the spread of Christ’s Kingdom. The portrait of the ‘man of lawlessness’ is wholly ideal, a kind of personification of the supreme effort of the anti-Christian forces.
Superficially viewed, this teaching may seem to be merely an echo of an obsolete myth. But it must not be forgotten that the language of Apocalypse is essentially symbolical. Paul has not hesitated to use all the imagery of Jewish Apocalyptic, yet through this conventional symbolism he expresses the truly Christian confidence that in the end the cause of Christ must triumph and all the powers of evil cease to be (see Findlay, Thessalonians, p. 230; Kennedy, St. Paul’s Conceptions of the Last Things, p. 184).
5. Authenticity of the Epistles
(i.) 1 Thessalonians.-At the present day it is scarcely necessary to defend the authenticity or even the integrity of 1 Thessalonians. Both are accepted as fully established by all modern critics (e.g. Jülicher, Wrede, Harnack, Milligan, Moffatt, Lake), except the small minority who regard all the Pauline Epistles as spurious (see Encyclopaedia Biblica , article ‘Paul,’ § 38). The only really doubtful clause Isaiah 2:16 b, ἔφθασεν δὲ ἐπʼ αὐτοὺς ἡ ὀργὴ εἰς τέλος, which seems to be a reminiscence of Test. Levi, vi. 11, and may have been added after the fall of Jerusalem. The genuineness of the rest of the Epistle is put beyond all doubt by its thoroughly Pauline style, its independence of the Acts narrative, and the absence of any doctrinal or polemical interest which could supply the motive of a forgery.
(ii.) 2 Thessalonians.-The case for 2 Thess. is not so clear. Its genuineness has been doubted on the following grounds.
(1) Its close resemblance in structure to 1 Thess., with which is said to be coupled a difference in tone and colour so great as to make it incredible that the two Epistles were written by the same writer to the same community about the same time (Wrede). This is the most weighty objection that has been advanced, but it is by no means conclusive. It may be granted that, apart from the sections 2 Thessalonians 1:5-12; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12; 2 Thessalonians 2:15; 2 Thessalonians 3:1-5; 2 Thessalonians 3:10; 2 Thessalonians 3:13; 2 Thessalonians 3:17, the Second Epistle is almost a reproduction of the First. Yet, amid this general resemblance, we do not find those subtle differences of vocabulary and syntax which betray the hand of the imitator. The difference of vocabulary is not greater than can be accounted for on natural grounds (Moffatt, Introd. to Literature of the New Testament (Moffatt)., p. 79). There is an un-Pauline stiffness and formality about the style of some passages (e.g. 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10, 2 Thessalonians 2:7-10), yet it occurs chiefly in what may be quotations of some semi-liturgical sentences (cf. Findlay, Thessalonians, p. lvii; Encyclopaedia Biblica iv. 5044). A possible explanation of the close resemblance between the two Epistles may be that Paul had a copy of 1 Thess. before him when he dictated 2 Thessalonians. Such a reference to the earlier Epistle would be quite natural, in view of its having been quoted to support mistaken ideas about the Parousia (2 Thessalonians 2:2). The colder, more official tone of 2 Thess. as compared with the First Epistle may be explained by the necessity for plain speaking occasioned by the errors of some Thessalonians. Its more Jewish complexion is due to the essentially Jewish nature of its subject. Harnack’s theory that it was addressed exclusively to the Jewish community is ingenious but unconvincing.
(2) Its eschatology.-(a) A former generation of scholars maintained that the passage 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 contains references to events much later than the death of Paul (so Kern, Baur, Hilgenfeld, Bahnsen). This position is no longer tenable. Increased knowledge of Jewish and primitive Christian eschatology has shown that the references of the Epistle are not to actual events but to traditional expectations.
(b) A second argument has been based on the ground that the teaching of 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12, which represents the Parousia as heralded by many signs, is incompatible with the view of 1 Thessalonians 5:1 ff., that it will be sudden and unexpected. In any case, this is not a fatal objection to the Pauline authorship of either Epistle. Such seeming inconsistencies are characteristic of all primitive Christian conceptions of the end (e.g. Matthew 24:29 ff.). But it is possible to exaggerate the discrepancy. Perhaps the meaning which the writer of 1 Thessalonians 5:1 ff. intended to convey was that ‘the day of the Lord comes as a thief in the night’ only for those who are asleep in indifference. Those who are awake will not be taken unawares (see Encyclopaedia Biblica iv. 5042). If this be the true explanation of the passage, the discrepancy between the two Epistles disappears.
(3) References to forged epistles.-A minor objection to the authenticity of 2 Thess. has been found in its supposed reference to the existence of forged epistles (2:2, μήτε διʼ ἐπιστολῆς ὡς διʼ ἡμῶν). It is certainly difficult to believe that spurious Pauline Epistles were circulated while the Apostle was alive. But close examination of the syntax of the verse 2:2 shows that the clause ὡς διʼ ἡμῶν should be connected not with ἐπιστολῆς but with θροεῖσθαι. The allusion then is not to spurious epistles, but to erroneous interpretations of a genuine one (Askwith, Thessalonian Epistles, p. 92 ff.). Various theories of the origin of 2 Thess. have been formulated on the assumption that the whole or part of it is spurious, e.g. (α) that into a genuinely Pauline Epistle have been interpolated the two later sections 2 Thessalonians 1:5-12; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 (P. Schmidt, ad loc.); (β) that 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 is a genuine Pauline fragment for which a later writer has provided a setting by a close imitation of 1 Thess. (Hausrath, History of NT Times, Eng. translation , 4 vols., London, 1895, iii. 215); (γ) that the Epistle was written by Timothy, who was influenced by a ‘Caligula-apocalypse’ (Spitta, Zur Geschichte und Litteratur des Urchristentums, i. 111 ff.); (δ) that the whole of 2 Thess. was written to counteract the eschatological views encouraged by the Pauline Epistles. The writer took 1 Thess. as his model because it contains the most notable outline of Pauline eschatology (Wrede, ‘Die Echtheit des zweiten Thessalonicherbriefs,’ in TU [Note: U Texte and Untersuchungen.] , new ser. ix. 2). All these theories raise more difficulties than they remove. The style of 2 Thess. is too uniform throughout to lend any support to the theory of interpolation. The Epistle must stand or fall as a whole. On the other hand, it is difficult to believe that a forger wishing to correct Paul’s teaching would address his work to a Church already in possession of a recognized Epistle of Paul. When all possible objections have been fully weighed, the conclusion which presents the least difficulty is that 2 Thess. is actually what it claims to be-an authentic letter of Paul to the Christians of Thessalonica. As suc
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Hastings, James. Entry for 'Thessalonians Epistles to the'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdn/t/thessalonians-epistles-to-the.html. 1906-1918.
the Week of Proper 22 / Ordinary 27